How do nursing homes compete

Austrian nursing homes are preparing for a second wave of infections

In an international comparison, all those responsible are always keen to emphasize that Austria performed well in the coronavirus crisis. Also with regard to the effects on residents of nursing homes. Nevertheless: A study by the Austrian Agency for Food Safety (Ages) shows that a third of all Covid deaths in Austria can be traced back to infections in old people's and nursing homes. Reason enough to think about how to deal with this even now, when the warning of a new wave of infections is getting louder.

On the occasion of this, Caritas called a press conference on Wednesday and made demands on politicians. A federal maintenance task force was said to be needed, as well as more and faster tests. It should no longer happen that medical care suffers in the pandemic, and it needs to be clear who has to pay for additional personnel costs.

Caritas President Michael Landau said there was an urgent need for a rejection of federalism and uniform nationwide rules, because this was the only way for home operators to have legal security. Ex-Health Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat (ÖVP) spoke of the fact that there are already signs of renewed shortages in protective clothing, and the federal government must support this. "Even small care providers still have to compete with entire countries on the world market," she said, which is why stocks urgently need to be built up.

Screening stations remain, as is the ban on visits

Another home operator, the Kuratorium Wiener Pensionistenwohnhäuser (KWP), is looking a little more relaxed into autumn. As far as protective equipment and in particular masks are concerned, one is currently "safe", says a spokesman - although recently employees in retirement homes have always had to wear a mask. When it comes to staff shortages, the KWP is only moderately worried. Should there be a lockdown again, the KWP's pensioners' clubs would also close, thus freeing up employees who - as with the last shutdown - could be deployed in the nursing homes.

In the care homes of the Vienna Health Association (formerly KAV), according to a spokesman, isolated screening stations for acute immediate new admissions were set up in May, in which these are tested for the virus before the new admissions are divided between the houses. They want to keep that, and visiting rules should not be relaxed for the time being.

Litigation pending over isolated residents

KWP houses - and also other old people's and nursing homes - were faced with severe criticism in the middle of the crisis because residents had to be quarantined even without an official order. Whether this would be done again, said the KWP spokesman, depends on the requirements of the federal government.

Representation networks usually check whether home residents are restricted in their freedom and whether this restriction is justified. You can also take cases to court. The agency network alone has brought 30 such procedures in connection with the coronavirus to court since April, eleven of them in Vienna. Only a few of the proceedings have so far been legally concluded, according to the network of representatives, an appeal has been filed with some and one is pending at the Supreme Court.

The proceedings deal with cases in which room isolation was ordered when a resident returned from the hospital or from a walk. In all proceedings, the court confirmed that, despite the coronavirus crisis, the Residence Act - it regulates how much freedom home residents must be entitled to - was to be applied and thus also that they must not be more isolated than the rest of the population, i.e. only when there is an official notification for it.

Fleckerlteppich also with the 24-hour care

There is also uncertainty in the area of ​​24-hour care. Although there are currently exceptions for third-country nationals who work in care - they are allowed to enter the country, but have to take a test - the vast majority of the caregivers come from Romania and therefore from a risk country. You are allowed to enter the country, but you must present a test or be in quarantine until a test, which can be taken a maximum of 48 hours after entry. There is no problem for caregivers from Slovakia, the second most common group among those women who work in Austria. Slovakia is currently considered a safe country of origin, and you can travel back and forth without any restrictions.

In the case of the Romanians, however, it is unclear who should pay for the cost of a test. Agency operator and care activist Klaus Katzianka says: "We need free tests for the caregivers. As long as we don't have them, that will be a problem." In this context, Caritas demanded on Wednesday that there should be rapid tests for nursing staff at all borders. (Gabriele Scherndl, July 29, 2020)